Hunt for the ultimate meal
Hunt for the ultimate meal

Hunt for the ultimate meal

Rayner provides an insider's view of the world of fine dining

The heterogeneity of the eating experience and the thrill of culinary discovery are central to an award-winning food critic&rsquos life. So it&rsquos understandable that Jay Rayner was dismayed when a celebrity chef told him that the coveted Michelin star ratings were &ldquonothing more than a guarantee that the ultra-rich could eat the same food anywhere in the world&rdquo &mdash that the global food revolution was all about safe consistency.

Determined to prove this idea wrong &mdash and to show that great chefs could preserve their creativity in the face of rampant globalisation &mdash Rayner set off on a worldwide hunt for &lsquothe ultimate meal&rsquo. His travels took him through Las Vegas, Moscow, Dubai, Tokyo, London and New York, before ending in &mdash where else &mdash Paris, where he conducted a heroic weeklong eat-a-thon at seven of the world&rsquos fanciest restaurants. By this time, inevitably, the journey was more important than the destination (what is the &lsquoperfect dinner&rsquo anyway).

The Man Who Ate the World provides a solid insider&rsquos view of the world of fine dining. Rayner gives us many anecdotes (did you know about the Moscow restaurant that discontinued its Chinese cuisine after the souring of Sino-Soviet relations but allowed diners to eat Russian sausages with chopsticks) and nice pen-portraits of people and places. He ruminates on the morality of eating obscenely expensive food while millions of people around the world starve, and he expresses strong views on such subjects as &lsquoauthenticity&rsquo being prioritised over quality.

The thing to understand about a book written by someone who eats for a living (and who has become famous for doing this) is that it can&rsquot be of much practical use to those of us who are serious foodies but in an unprofessional capacity. To Rayner&rsquos credit, he acknowledges the advantages and constraints of his job, both of which distance him from the ordinary diner having access to important contacts in every city he travels to eating in the presence of a high-profile chef or restaurateur who&rsquos scrutinising his every move having to man up for a 12-course meal even when he isn&rsquot feeling very hungry or enthusiastic.

In this context, I was impressed by the sagacity of Rayner&rsquos wife Pat, who halfheartedly accompanies him to fancy places that are more about the &lsquoexperience&rsquo than the food. &ldquoThe first time you try high-end food it&rsquos astounding, but after that you are just grading your experiences against themselves,&rdquo says this pragmatic woman. Though her husband&rsquos book has undoubted virtues (not the least being Rayner&rsquos wit, candour and breadth of knowledge), I would gladly trade it in for a notepad filled with her views on the perfect meal.

Outlook Traveller